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'Soccer capital' Kansas City spreads the sport with Midwest's first blind soccer field

Two men in a suit and several kids, some of them with white canes, line up behind a ribbon that says "KCK Chamber" with a comically large pair of red-handled scissors, getting ready to cut the ribbon.
Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
Dignitaries and kids line up for the ribbon cutting to dedicate the new blind soccer field at the Kansas State School for the Blind.

The Kansas State School for the Blind in Kansas City, Kansas, celebrated the opening of its brand new soccer field on Friday.

Kansas City bills itself as the “nation’s soccer capital,” and the Friday afternoon dedication of a blind soccer field in Kansas City, Kansas — the first of its kind in the Midwest — enhanced that moniker.

Local dignitaries cut the ribbon behind the goal area of the pitch at the Kansas State School for the Blind on State Avenue, west of downtown Kansas City, Kansas.

The Victory Project, a philanthropic arm of Kansas City’s Major League Soccer team, Sporting Kansas City, provided $32,000 to move forward with the construction of the field, which began last year.

“Kansas City is a soccer hotbed and, thanks to this field, our students can truly be a part of that vibrant energy,” said KSSB superintendent Jon Harding at the dedication ceremony.

The walls of the blind soccer field are visible through the net soccer goal. A girl stands in the goal, and behind it is a banner that says "Thank you sponsors for making dreams come true" with logos from KSSB and KC Blind All-Stars.
Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
The blind soccer field bordered by the side walls that KSSB Superintendant Jon Harding says "aren't really cheap. They are expensive. They are heavy."

Fort Worth, Texas, native Ricardo Castaneda, just informed this week that he was named to the U.S. Association of Blind Athletes national team, was also on hand. The U.S. will field its first ever Olympic blind soccer team at the 2028 Paralympic Games in Los Angeles.

About eight years ago, months after completely losing his sight at age 15 to the rare genetic disorder Pars Planitus, Castaneda spent a summer and part of the school year at a camp in the Kansas City area.

He was trying to figure out how to move forward, and tried several different sports and activities.

“Literally anything to get my mind off of what I was going through at the time,” said Castaneda.

Ricardo Castaneda stands on the pitch in a navy blue shirt with a "USA Blind Soccer" logo and sunglasses on his head. Players are visible in the background.
Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
U.S. Blind Soccer team member Ricardo Castaneda of Fort Worth, Texas, who once spent a summer in the Kansas City area for soccer, was on hand for the dedication ceremony.

Castaneda loved playing soccer before losing his sight, and worked hard to become extremely skilled at blind soccer. It’s a long road from playing high school blind soccer to the national team, but Castaneda said it’s important for the visually impaired to have facilities like the one at KSSB.

“The Kansas School for the Blind is giving a great opportunity for people with disabilities,” said Castaneda

KSSB has already been reaching out to Kansas residents who could potentially play on the new field.

Last November, two KSSB instructors conducted a clinic for 11 visually impaired students ranging from 11 to 16 years old at an indoor soccer facility outside Manhattan, Kansas. They had traveled from as far away as Winfield, Kansas.

The Kansas State School for the Blind held a blind soccer clinic in Manhattan, Kansas, last November to teach kids about blind soccer with hopes of seeing them on the new soccer pitch at KSSB.
Greg Echlin
KCUR 89.3
The Kansas State School for the Blind held a blind soccer clinic in Manhattan, Kansas, last November to teach kids about blind soccer with hopes of seeing them on the new soccer pitch at KSSB.

“My goal is to be able to reach the whole state and to be doing teaching, recruiting of athletes beyond just Kansas City,” said Leah Enright, the KSSB’s blind sports coordinator, who is not herself visually impaired.

Five players, including goalkeepers, make up each side. The keepers are visually impaired but, unlike their teammates, not totally without sight.

Enright and Nicole Drake, an adapted physical education teacher at KSSB, explained the blind soccer rules to kids at last year's clinic, including how the goalkeeper acts as an on-field coach.

“If I’m the goalkeeper and I’m trying to direct my defense to stop the ball from coming at me, I’m going to use directions like, ‘Move to your left, move to your right, go forward, come back, scooch in, come toward my voice,” Drake instructed. “Your goalkeeper is very important on the field.”

There are also two non-playing coaches on the field calling similar commands.

As a protective technique, blind soccer players hustle to the ball with one arm extended and the other at the player’s waist. Both hands have palms facing out to prevent the players from running into each other’s bodies or having any head contact.

If a defender goes after the ball, that player must cry out “Voy!”

“'Voy' is a universal name for ‘I’m coming’ or ‘I’m going,’ because this is played all over the world,” said Drake.

Players can be penalized if they do not call voy.

Blind soccer players’ key skill is listening — not just to the coaches and the commands, but to the ball, which has beads inside that make sounds when it rolls.

And now, they'll have the region's first field where they can hone that skill.

Sports have an economic and social impact on our community and, as a sports reporter, I go beyond the scores and statistics. I also bring the human element to the sports figures who have a hand in shaping the future of not only their respective teams but our town. Reach me at gregechlin@aol.com.
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